Industry Update
Opinion Article14 January 2020

Airbnb as the Literal Canary in the Coal Mine

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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With seven million guestrooms (as of this writing) available for rent, Airbnb beats out any other hotel company or distributor on the planet for total room inventory. Given its sheer size and its omnipresent brand awareness, when this sharing economy juggernaut makes the move, it's a sign of where the industry is headed as a whole.


My hope in writing this today is that you recognize the Company as a trendsetter, then do your best to both ensure that your property doesn't fall behind, then becomes an innovator in its own right.

Two such product launches of recent worth expounding have been the Airbnb Luxe (and lumped in with that would be Airbnb Plus) and Airbnb for Work. This is without mentioning a slew of others to round out the core offering, including their Experiences platform which we'll circle back to later.

The former of these two is banking on demand for exceptional accommodations at the luxury end of the spectrum, wherein modern guests of this segment care more about unique spaces while traveling, than any brand guarantee that comes with a traditional five-star hotel. In this way, Airbnb Luxe is not only about competing with some of the best properties around the world, but also about giving users of the platform a new aspirational bucket list to service the ever-widening experience economy.

The latter may easily be seen as simply a way for appeasing corporate travelers by having options available for them and a seamless invoice reconciliation system. But it is actually far more prescient than that. Aside from its efficacy at serving the emergent bleisure segment, Airbnb for Work is actually a Trojan Horse. It is designed to make millennials and centennials loyal to the Company for the rest of their lives by ensuring that these younger generations aren't repeatedly exposed to key competitors like Marriott, Hilton or IHG. In a world where our youth are increasingly opting for alternate accommodations, letting them stay within Airbnb for their corporate travel needs instills greater loyalty to the brand and habit-forming behavior trickles into their careers.

Where the puny title comes into play is due to Airbnb's latest product announcement - Animals on Airbnb Experiences. With the company acting as a trendsetter, nowadays it is undoubtedly a canary in the coal mine for all new ventures in the industry. As an extension of their base Experiences platform, this new tool lets guests 'meet animals and the local hosts that care for their welfare'. Moreover, they've partnered with World Animal Protection to ensure that all experiences follow guidelines that shield the animals from harm.

This is brilliant because it taps into our collective desire to connect with the planet in an interesting way that no single hotel would be able to execute. While a resort in Thailand may offer a hands-on encounter with elephants, or a Californian hotel may have a longstanding partnership with a regional whale watching operator, the ability to browse the whole globe all at once and solely through this lens changes how the guest looks at accommodations.

The conventional way of approaching travel is first have a landmark event like a wedding, conference or vacation period to then find flights followed by hotels. Instead, similar to how Airbnb Luxe gives customers a flag at the top of the mountain to climb towards, these unique experiences aim to become an attraction in their own right whereby people reorient their accommodations and airfare around such exclusive attractions.

Then there is the environmental angle, for which I would strongly encourage every hotelier to be proactive in any way possible. While not explicitly stating that any funds go to certain third-party charities, or that proceeds from usage of this new platform are funneled towards conservation programs, the brand association is clear - that Airbnb cares about the environment and by helping connect guests with these experiences, it will deepen our appreciation for the animal kingdom and their ecosystems.

The writing is on the wall; with kids forgoing school in favor of climate strikes, they will soon be voting for conscientious brands with their wallets and boycotting those that are stuck in the wasteful twentieth century. Simply put: If your hotel doesn't take sustainability seriously, it will have a limited shelf life.

As a trendsetter in hospitality, my prediction for Airbnb is that this is the first of many environmentally focused product launches. I can foresee a time very soon when they set up a sustainable design certification program for their guestroom inventory or a worldwide recycling mandate for all hosts, in addition to a myriad of other experiences centered around the ecotourism market. Good for them; great for business.

Whether these things come to pass or not, this latest development is definitely worth following as well as considering for your property insofar as how you can emulate Airbnb's success. The only way you can become the best is if you learn from those who already are at the top of their game.


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